The tape begins to roll. I ask Carlos to speak clearly into the microphone (translated from the original Spanish)….
He was born in Concepcion, just like I was. His pictures adorned my wall as a child. He was, as the Americans like to say, my hero.
He virtually created the nation of Chile if you ask me. Or ask my father, for that matter. Or you could if Papa were still alive.
I will admit that my love for Luis Altamirano is something I owe my late, great father for. Papa even got to work for the great man, during that brief time that Altamirano was the president of the country. He swore loyalty to Altamirano until the end; even when it meant risking everything he had worked for to that point in his life. It killed him, my father’s loyalty to Altamirano. That and my mother and sister’s extravagances, of course, let us not forget those.
When my father’s fortunes fell with the great president’s, those horrible women that I regret to have to admit to being my own flesh and blood, they could not understand in the slightest. I myself did not like living in that remote town in the lakes we had to flee to, becoming petty labourers, but I understood. I kept my problems to myself while going out to work in the fields, every single day. But my mother and sister complained, always, all the while contributing nothing. It broke my father’s heart and he died a young man.
I ask Carlos here to skip ahead to the relevant day in question. I also ask him whether he thinks of himself as a misogynist – his blank stare tells me all I need to know…
The day in question was a day like any other since my father’s death. I went to work in the fields, where I spent my time thinking about Altamirano’s greatness. But I remember it was just after the lunching hour that an entourage of very nice cars drove through the centre of town. This was very unusual; that town rarely got any visitors, never mind important ones. I ran to get a closer look as the cars pulled up in front of the only half way decent hotel in the whole province, La Casa Domingo.
I made it to the front of the hotel just what was clearly a very important man exited from the back of one of the vehicles. Do you know when you have those moments that decide your whole life? And you even know in the moment that your life is about to change even though you, of course, have no idea how? This important man had such an air of confidence, of unconquerablity, of…..perfection. I knew I had to meet him.
I knew that time was potentially short; this man was certain only to be in my little town for a few days at the most. He was probably there on some sort of government business (there were Chilean flags adorning the cars, I noticed as I began to hatch my little plan) and would therefore want to be back in Santiago as soon as possible. Still, I did not wish to act too hastily and ruin the opportunity completely. I decided I would enact my plan the following morning.
I arrived at my work an hour earlier than anyone would be there and used the shower facilities adjacent to the fields to change into my suit. It was the only suit I had ever owned up until then; it was purchased for me to attend my father’s funeral in. I remember how putting the suit on that fateful day made me think instantly of Papa. This then made me think dark thoughts. It did not help that the suit turned out to be too small. Lucky that it was too big when it was bought for me or things could have been even worse. It would have to do, I remember saying to myself, there is no alternative. In all of my other clothing I looked like a peasant.
As I approached the hotel my hands began to get sweaty. All my thoughts were negative; this will never work, never, was what kept going through my brain. Getting into the hotel on a quiet day in this suit would be a challenge. With a government minister staying there, the security was bound to be very tight indeed. However, I had no other possibility of getting close to the great man I knew I had to meet, a meeting that was my destiny.
I walked into the lobby of the hotel, trying to look calm, collected, like I fit in. As I did so I noticed there was some sort of fracas occurring. All of the security men looked concerned and there was a lot of running around, to and fro. Something bad had happened, that was for sure. And it was precisely this disturbance that allowed me to slip into the hotel and past the lobby to the stairs without a second look. Amongst the yelling, I even managed to overhear one of the security men say to the other, “Ignacion is in Room 12. Get up there!” I wondered if this Ignacion was the man I was looking for and decided it was worth investigating.
I headed to Room 12 via the staircase, feeling as if the Gods were now smiling down on me. I thought of my father, and of Altamirano, and felt that this was to be the day my family’s fortunes would once more be back in their rightful place.
Surely this Signor Ignacion would be impressed with my fortitude, with my courage in coming here? For the first time I became conscious of the plan I had been forging in my subconscious mind: Signor Ignacion would take me away, away from the fields and the horrid women I had to look after, back with him to Santiago where he would make me his son, as if I were truly his flesh and blood. He would remember my father and how great a man he was. Tears would come to his eyes when I told him of the peasant’s funeral my father was made to suffer. How his family had been reduced to peasants themselves, made to work the fields with every other half-breed living in these mountains. He would see that there was nothing his conscience could possibly allow him to do other than rescue this mistreated boy and take him back to where he truly belonged in the world.
Room 12 was just to the right of where the staircase let out onto the first floor. The door to the room was slightly ajar which made it easy to hear two men arguing inside. The words I caught were about “defences being breached” and “how could this happen?” several times. I crept up and opened the door a little more. I could see that one of the men arguing was Signor Ignacion himself, or at least the man I had seen exiting the car the previous day that had made me embark on the adventure I was then currently enjoying. The other man shouting was the security guard whose voice I recognised from downstairs as the one who had been told to head to Room 12. As I peeked into the room, really rather cheekily given the circumstances, I saw that the security guard was holding a large handgun and was waving it around as he yelled in what I felt was a most careless manner.
“Look!” Signor Ignacion shouted while pointing at me. The security man swung around and fired his weapon. I heard the shot as it whistled past my ear. Luckily the only damage I personally suffered was a small cut on my right ear from wood debris that came flying after the door was hit by the bullet.
“You moron! Now the rebels will know where we are!”
Signor Ignacion shouted this while hitting the security man with his hat. The peon apologised again and again for his itchy trigger finger.
“Get outside the door now!”
“What about the kid?”
“Leave the kid in here with me. And lock the door behind you as you leave!”
And with that, the security guard stepped over me and out the door, leaving me alone in the room with Signor Ignacion, locking us in from the outside. I heard the clicking sound of the bolt. I have no idea how that was even made possible, but in Chile anything can become reality, this is what you learn.
My plans had worked as well as I could have ever dreamed they could. Here I was, in the perfect position. The fact that I had almost been shot was of little consequence. I was here now and I was going to make this opportunity count. I cleared my throat and began to speak.
“I have come here today, Signor Ignacion, because you and my father were very dear friends.”
I had no idea whether this statement was true or not, but I decided to take a gamble. My father was acquainted with most members of the current regime, so he would at least know who Papa was. Ignacion was barely listening to me, however. He was too busy throwing his belongings into a trunk.
“I have many dear friends, my son,” he said laughing, although I couldn’t understand what was so humourous.
“My father was loyal to Altamirano until the end and it cost him his life.”
Again, Ignacion laughed, this time in an intentionally cruel, mocking way.
“Serves him right then. Altamirano was a fucking fool.”
And yes, he used those foul words to talk about our late, great president, the greatest man in all of Chile’s history. I was of course speechless. Ignacion then stopped what he was doing and looked straight at me.
“Who was this father of yours?”
“His name was Jonas Fanta.”
Ignacion thought for a moment. And then he started laughing again.
“Oh yes, Fanta. I remember him. He was a fucking fool too.”
Insults directed towards the great Altamirano were hard enough to take. But insulting my Papa to my face well, that is more than any man should have to face. I wanted to retaliate, to hurt this so called important man. But I was twelve years old and nothing came immediately to mind. Thankfully, it was this moment in which God decided to introduce Augusto into my life – to fulfil the destiny I was so sure I was there to accept.
Augusto walked into Room 12 as casually as if he were walking into a store on the town’s main street. Ignacion looked terrified for a moment, but calmed down considerably when he recognised the intruder.
“Yes, Joaquin. It is I.”
“What are you doing in the provinces?”
“Don’t you know? I take my holidays here every year.”
Signor Ignacion looked confused at this statement. I thought that surely Ignacion’s next question would be to ask how Augusto had managed to open the locked door to the room, but he didn’t.
“You are staying in this hotel?” he asked instead.
“Yes, I am.”
“How have we not run into each other?”
“I was wondering the same thing myself.”
“Where are your people?”
“I am alone.”
This one perplexed Ignacion more than anything Augusto had said to this point.
I had to pause the interview briefly at this stage as Fanta exploded in laughter, so much so that he ended up going to the bathroom to vomit slightly. I assume he was chucking at his memories of Ignacion’s confusion, but with Carlos assumptions of this kind can often be proven subsequently incorrect….
Right, where was I? Oh yes, so Ignacion then says to Augusto:
“Is that wise travelling alone?”
Augusto shrugged, cool as anything.
“Probably not. But you know me, Quino, I have always been one to take risks.”
Augusto then lit a match using his teeth. He used the match to light a cigar, a large cigar, probably Cuban. He looked cool, more heroic than I’d ever seen anyone in real life.
“Augusto, listen: there are rebels here, they are somewhere in the hotel right now. We are in great danger.”
“No, my friend it is only you who are in great danger.”
Augusto sat down in a nearby chair I hadn’t even noticed was there until that very moment.
“I am perfectly safe,” he continued, puffing on his large Cuban.
“I don’t understand,” and it was clear that Signor Ignacion indeed didn’t understand. And fast as lightning, Signor Ignacion was shot, hit by a bullet that came from a revolver held by the seated Augusto. It was a good shot too: right through the heart. Signor Iganacion was quite clearly dead a few seconds following impact.
Ignacion’s men bounded up the stairs and clumsily entered the room, their large guns drawn. The scene immediately baffled them: their charge dead on the floor, a well dressed man in a chair, calmly smoking a large cigar, and a young boy in what was clearly a very ill fitting suit, with a bleeding left ear, sat on the bed, looking terrified. Augusto got up and said very serenely to them:
“Signor Ignacion is dead. The rebels have killed him.”
The security men had immediate difficulty processing this information and looked at Augusto with understandable suspicion.
“Go and find them, they can’t be far.”
The men with guns stood frozen, unsure collectively of what to do.
“What are you standing around for!” Augusto yelled at them with an anger that seemed to come from nowhere. “The rebels are escaping! Don’t you know who I am?”
And at that point one of the security men recognised Augusto.
“Oh General, it is you, so sorry, sir.”
This alerted the other security men to the importance of the man in their midst, and almost as if they had all been hit with a cattle prod they turned around and dashed from the room.
“What is your name, son?” Augusto said in an avuncular fashion to me as soon as Ignacion’s boobs had departed.
“I am Carlos Fanta.”
Augusto turned to me with an inquisitive look.
“Your father, was he Jonas Fanta?”
“The very same.”
Augusto cracked a wide smile.
“I knew him; a very good man. Shame about what happened to him, but that is politics in Chile, I am afraid.”
Augusto walked right up to me and held out his hand for me to shake.
“I am Augusto. Augusto Pinochet. Take this handkerchief and press it hard against your ear.”
I left the hotel, out the front, with Augusto gripping my right hand as though I were his son, my left hand holding the silky white but quickly turning red handkerchief to the side of my head. It felt good to feel protected by a father figure once again, to be able to let go of having to feel like the man of the house and to be a the child that I was once more, a feeling I had not had since Papa’s passing. The area immediately outside of the hotel lobby was chaos: ambulances and local police, the army. I believe there was a tank there, but I could easily be embellishing my memories of the occasion. Augusto led me to a very nice black car, took out his keys and opened the passenger door.
We drove in silence, Augusto and I, north. Through Temuco and into the Bio-Bio region. As we approached Los Angeles, Augusto broke the quiet.
“I suppose this is the furthest north you have ever been, am I right, little one?”
“No, I was born in Concepcion.”
Augusto slapped his forehead.
“Of course. Your father was from Concepcion. How could I have forgotten that. I am sorry, Carlos.”
I didn’t know how to respond to Augusto’s apology, so I said nothing. I had become so used to being treated like a peasant I had lost the ability to talk like a normal person. Silence descended again, until we reached the outskirts of Santiago.
Now, my friends, I had never seen the capital of our wonderful country with my own eyes before then. And that first time seeing Santiago, seeing the boulevards all lit up, the tall buildings that seemed to go to the sky, well, I was well and truly in love. I knew instantly that this is where I wanted to die, this city here. I never wanted to leave again.
“What do you think, little one?”
“It is the greatest place I could ever even imagine.”
“I’m glad you like it. You’ll be staying with me here from now on.”
At that moment, I thought of my family. My mother and my sister, both of whom relied on me for their daily crust. And I remembered how they had driven my father to an early grave, the two of them. And I came to an immediate conclusion: both of them were now dead to me. Augusto would be my only family from that day forward.
At this stage, I had to change reels. Carlos wanted to have a fag and stretch his legs. I allowed it…
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